Moderate to severe difficulty breathing in adults and older children

Difficulty breathing can occur when the body's lungs or heart are not working well.

Symptoms of moderate difficulty breathing

  • Air hunger. The person feels like he or she can't get enough air.
  • Shallow or slightly labored breathing
  • Difficulty breathing at rest or after even mild exertion
  • Shortness of breath that makes speaking difficult

Symptoms of severe difficulty breathing

  • Chest tightness so severe that the person is worried being strong enough or able to keep breathing
  • Shortness of breath makes speaking almost impossible
  • Severe wheezing
  • Anxiety, fear, agitation, or restlessness
  • Extreme drowsiness, difficulty waking up, or responding slowly (lethargy)

Last Updated: February 25, 2010

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: David Messenger, MD Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

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